Studying Failure From Federal Prison

To help better understand why some succeed in federal prison, I find it immensely helpful to learn from those who seem to set themselves up for failure.

In my previous Federal Prison Gone Bad classes, I outlined some of the steps I deem essential for a successful prison adjustment. Those steps included the proactive approach, beginning with the end in mind, and putting first things first. That lends us to the fourth principle, which is to understand the prison environment before we take steps to make others understand us.

As an example, I will take you back to an episode I witnessed in federal prison. One morning while I was working on one of my writing projects, I saw a minor altercation between a relatively new and unseasoned prisoner with an overt gang member.

I may have been confined in a minimum-security camp, but those boundaries held some with a proclivity for violence. All federal prisoners who strive for success dismiss that reality at their own peril.

The new offender, Tim, worked as an orderly who had the responsibility of mopping the bathroom. Wood, the inveterate gang member, was also an orderly. Tim performed his job punctually and diligently; Wood only reported for duty when staff members were present.

After Tim had finished mopping the bathroom, he returned the equipment to the mop room. Wood reprimanded Tim about putting the mop bucket in the appropriate spot. Rather than responding with the humility that would have been appropriate, given the relative status of each prisoner, Tim responded in a cocky manner, but in the end, acquiesced to Wood. That ended the confrontation.

When alone with Tim, I discussed the possible outcomes. He felt slighted because he had been performing his job as assigned for several months, while he knew that Wood hardly worked at all.

Yet I explained to Tim that prison differed in remarkable ways from the world outside. Whereas Tim was trying to finish his 12-month sentence and return home, Wood was a prisoner who did not seem to value anything in the world as much as his prison reputation. Rather than wanting to understand his environment, Tim wanted Wood to understand him. That was a recipe for conflict and that is when prison can go bad.

For those of you soon to endure federal prison you must understand all possible outcomes that can follow unnecessary altercations with gang members. As federal prisoners, it is always best to understand the environment. Those who want to succeed will adjust in prison in ways to ensure they avoid conflict. They seek to understand before they try to be understood. That is the fourth lesson of a successful prison adjustment.
Justin Paperny